Gun Violence, Microaggressions & Youth Power

I work with teenagers.  I’ve been working with teenagers for 15 or 16 years.  I love them, I truly do.  The excitement of the young mind is inspiring, especially when they get caught up in something they truly believe in and then tirelessly push forward with their vision for change.

This is why it has been so incredible to witness students coming together to stand up against gun violence, against a cultural trend in the United States that supports policies  protecting access to weapons over policies that protect human well-being. Last week young people across the United States came together to show the government their power, to tell the country that they are the next generation and they are here now and ready to vote.  It has been beautiful.  At my school, which had the largest school protest in all of Oakland, was entirely run by students.  I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear from students about how much they enjoyed the event.  Completely youth planned, there were speakers, poets, and and open mic for young people to express how they felt about gun violence.  And in the audience there were more than 1000 (some estimated 1500) students standing in the rain to listen, to observe, to be a part of change.  There were of course a lot of students who were there primarily because they wanted to get out of class, but that’s to be expected.  They still stayed there in the rain and listened.

There was a part of me that was so proud of them, so inspired by their actions and their passion.  AND then there was this other part of me that was irritated.  Bothered by the contradictions, by the way this rally, this call to action, this mobilization, was like a really big microaggression for students of color, particularly the students who have felt the real impact of gun violence.  Students who walk and live on streets that have taken the lives of their friends, their family members, people who were close their hearts.

During a summer on the streets of Oakland, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, etc there can be more than 17 murders.  Where are the rallies when the students in these cities come back to school after a summer of gun violence?  Where is the training for teachers to learn how to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or the Trauma response from these kids impacted by intense grief and fear?  Where are the therapy sessions or the healing circles for the students as they come back to school?

When I asked students in my class and my after school program about their thoughts on the rally, many students were upset.  Some even said that, although they feel bad for saying it, they didn’t really care much about the shooting in Parkland.  They felt like the same people who were wanting them to come out and support the people in Parkland were nowhere to be seen or heard when it was Black and Brown people being killed by police or community violence.  To some, this might seem insensitive, and to others they understand this sentiment completely.  These students were frustrated that the people on the mic at the walk-out rally were mostly people who were not directly impacted by gun violence and kept referring to the school shooting in Parkland as the reason for taking action for gun control.   They were white and lived in all mostly white middle to upper class neighborhoods.  They referred to gun violence in this far off place, without even acknowledging the gun violence that happens right here on the streets of Oakland.  This, I believe, is a microaggression.

Microaggressions, as defined by Derald Wing Sue Ph.D., “are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.”

Having this movement focused on gun violence and gun control, yet center it around one type of gun violence, mass shootings, is a snub and an insult.  It is likely unintentional but very impactful to Black and Brown communities, many of which are heavily impacted by gun violence.  In all of the school shootings I have been aware of, the shooters are almost always white and the overall majority of the victims are white. This communicates to people across this country that when white lives are taken needlessly, there should be an outcry for help and support, but when it’s Black and Brown lives that are taken needlessly, it’s normalized brushed off as if their lives are worth less. This is a microaggression.

My deepest hope moving forward is that the student organizers expand their understanding of gun violence and the people who are most impacted by it.  My hope is that the students most deeply impacted by gun violence are the ones on the mic and whose voices are prioritized in organizing and planning ideas and strategies for creating change.  My hope is that we can look at the different forms of gun violence, whether it be about mass shootings or street killings, and understand the ways they are connected as well as understand the ways they are completely different.  Gun violence in the United States has many forms, none is more important than another.  When our society prioritizes the grief and care for victims of one type of gun violence more than others, this can be deeply hurtful and continue a legacy of white superiority. This is a legacy that we should be doing everything in our power to change.




Healing Circles

Tomorrow will be the first of an on-going series of healing circles that I am facilitating, happening on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month in Oakland CA. These circles are focused on the ways racism and white supremacy have impacted generations of white people in this country. White people who used to have a connection to a place in Europe, and who would be considered Europeans, have been melted into a white identity and have historically and currently benefited socially and economically based on this identity.  The privileges white people receive based on this skin color identity are immense and the internalized white superiority has been woven into every institution we interact with.  I believe deeply that in terms of trauma and harm, all people involved are traumatized and harmed; whether it’s the person/ people causing the harm or the people/ person being harmed.  White supremacy has caused generations of harm and has impacted people of color and white people, but in different ways. In these healing circles we will be exploring how it has impacted white people in order to heal and therefor be more active participants in a society of racial equity.

To view and RSVP on the Facebook invite, click here 

If you’re not on Facebook, RSVP to: or send a text to (510) 220-1589


Healing Circles
For Europeans who have become white
To face into the trauma of white supremacy
To heal it’s scars and awaken our internal and eternal truths
To align with our values and deepen our integrity
To end the cycle of internalized superiority and legacy of amnesia
To heal
In connection, in Community

This is an intentional healing space to circle up and dig into the generational trauma of white supremacy in the psyche of white people, because …
Hurt people, hurt people
We are working towards being healed people who connect with other healed people

A white man’s problem…

before I call bullshit, bullshit, let me start by sharing my deepest condolences and love to the families who have lost loved ones. violent, unnecessary death is heavy. prayers are being held for all of you in my heart.


17 counts of premeditated murder. keep your eyes open and notice what his sentence will end up being. 
and folks who know… know. if this was a Black man, death penalty would be an obvious. but who are we really fooling?
Black people don’t do mass shootings. that’s a white boy problem. so what do you think he’s gonna get? let’s just wait and see what happens.

and to be clear, i am not an advocate of the death penalty.  i’m an advocate for equity and accountable, deep, hard to face, transformative justice.


we have yet to see much equity in our history, or accountable, transformative justice before.  yes he has a mental health issue.  how can you kill that many people and NOT have a mental health issue?  and how long can you live inside the belief of white supremacy and not end up with a mental health issue?  this level of disassociation and cognitive dissonance can only create a mental imbalance and of course nobody is going to take accountability for the feeding of these beliefs into him.  everyone is gonna point a finger and nobody will actually do the dirty work of tracing the influences, following the generational line, the passed down behaviors, and look at the epigenetics of this man’s life.  it would likely reveal the sick and twisted, unhealed trauma of racial hatred. generation, to generation, like skin color- it’s in the dna.

this is the white man’s biggest problem, which is also a white woman’s problem.  let’s do the necessary healing work and stop pointing fingers at these “obviously” racist “bad-apples” and see the traces of the past in our own dna, our own behavior… what is our epigenetics?  we may not be mentally imbalanced enough to shoot up a school, but i don’t think any white person in this country who has family here for more than 2 generations isn’t carrying the remnants of the unhealed trauma of racial superiority.


De-criminalization of drugs

I don’t watch TV a lot, but I often see snippets of shows when I’m at the gym, where they have 7 different TVs playing what they have determined to be “popular” shows.  There is a show that I see often, highlighting the increased impact of heroin in suburban, middle-class communities.  This issue has also been in the news lately and the language surrounding the “problem” talks about it as a health concern, an issue that requires our compassion and our empathy. The people who are struggling with addiction are being humanized and non-criminalized interventions are urged.  All of this is ultimately what I believe should happen. I believe drug addiction is a heath concern and should be looked at as such.  Unfortunately on the back side of this narrative is the history of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 80’s and before that the heroin epidemic of the 60’s and the heavy impact the African American community in this country, in particular, has endured from both of these “epidemics.”  In the past, there wasn’t any popular language urging us to think about drug users as deserving of help, or being humanized and offered treatment.  On the contrary, they were dehumanized, popularly looked upon as criminals, problematic, super predators and needing harsh prison sentences to learn from their mistakes.

Many scholars, including the profound work of Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness as well as the the groundbreaking film, 13th, by Ava DuVernay, have looked at the ways in which these drug epidemics deeply impacted the Black community.  They break down the narrative of criminalization, the media portrayal of drug users as violent, as “super-predators”, as unable to take care of their children.  Entire families, entire communities were ripped apart by the these narratives because they were intricately tied to laws;  3 strikes you’re out laws, mandatory minimum laws that gave harsher sentences to crack cocaine users than powder cocaine users, with the major difference being that crack cocaine was being used by Black people and powder cocaine was being used by white people. In both of these bodies of work, they detail the harms to Black communities that have been endured because when people of color use drugs, they are criminalized and incarcerated, their children being taken away from them and put into the foster care system.  As detailed in the article, “How White Users Made Heroin a Public-Health Problem,” by Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic, the tides are turned when it’s white and affluent communities using drugs and the narrative changes to a health concern and worthy of our empathy.   I don’t disagree that the people in suburban, affluent neighborhoods who are being heavily impacted by the effects of drug use and drug addiction, are worthy of our empathy. I strongly believe they are.  I also believe that the people and families from less affluent neighborhoods, predominately people of color, who were caught in a whirlwind of drug use and abuse are just as worthy of our empathy and should be just as likely to receive health informed interventions instead of criminalization and incarceration.

Even now, with California’s law making marijuana legal for recreational use, it is difficult to ignore the amount of people, specifically people of color, who have been locked up or were locked up for years because of marijuana use or sale.  Children didn’t see their parents or their uncles or aunts or brothers or sisters for 3-7 (or more) years sometimes for doing what is now being done legally in dispensaries all over California.  Again, I’m not here to say I disagree with the de-criminalization of marijuana. I believe it’s necessary for us to critically think about the impact of unjust laws and question who is being impacted by them. As history has continued to show us, we will continue to be faced with unjust laws and will be faced with choice on how to engage with them.

There are so many opportunities for each of us to critically ask what rules and laws are we agreeing to or abiding by in order to “keep the peace” or because we would rather follow the rules than question the underlying purpose of the law or rule.  Within each of us, there is an internal moral code.  An internal guide that knows a deeper understanding of humanity than the socially constructed ideas of “right and wrong” that we’re fed by the media and other institutions.  There is no time like the present to ask ourselves, is this right?  What is the underlying purpose of this law or rule?  Who benefits from it, and who is negatively impacted by it?  How have negative stereotypes or assumptions fueled the implementation of this law or rule?

When we stand in our truth with conviction and courage, we make a ripple, causing that ripple to transform into a wave, supporting that wave to become a current.  A current so strong it pulls the most unsuspecting people into the movement towards truth and reconciliation.  Our power grows when we stay grounded in the deep universal truths of love, which is empty without justice, and justice, which is weak without love.  Recently, I was at an even called “Decolonizing the Psyche,” and the facilitator/ speaker, Amber McZeal said, “Love is not the absence of conflict.  Love is the presence of conflict with the courage, character and commitment to find your way through it.”

There is no time like the present to be courageous and speak the truth.

White experience is not universal experience

Something that I notice a lot is when people with social privilege, often white and with economic privilege, speak about their experiences as if they are universal, as if everyone experiences them.  An example of this was from today when a young person who I know and is in her first year of college was telling me about how her professor was explaining a situation that he had been through.  He started out with, “everyone has been through something similar to this…” but the situation was very specific to somebody from an upper class, white cultural experience.  She is Black and grew up without a lot of economic resources and when she was listening to him, she was internally shaking her head and laughing at his assumptions and ignorance.

Working at a school with predominately white teachers and majority students of color, I often overhear situations like this.  What I have found is that, generally speaking, the more privilege a person has, the less likely they are to recognize that not everyone experiences the same types of situations than they do.

For anyone who has ever done the privilege walk, I think it illustrates this point beautifully.  If you have a diverse group of people and everyone stands on a line to start, different statements about having privilege or not having privilege are read out loud.  The people who have experienced what the statement says take a step forward or a step back.  After many statements, such as “take a step forward if you grew up with both parents in the home” or “step back if you have been pulled over by the police more than 3 times” are read, the people who experience the most amount of privilege, white straight males, end up at the front of the line and then at the back of the line are people who deal with the most amount of social oppression, which ends up being females of color, or queer people of color. Everyone else with varying degrees of privilege and oppression end up along the continuum, depending on their experiences.  If everyone is facing forward towards the front, the facilitator asks the question, “Who has the best view of the society.”  The people at the back of the line can see everyone in front of them, but the people in the front of the line can only see themselves or people next to them.  Their social blinders are on.

This seems to be exactly what happens in life.  The more privilege one has, the more difficult it is to notice others around you.  The blinders are on and unless we make an effort to turn around and ask people what they are experiencing or notice how their life is, we only see in front of us and from side to side.  On the flip side, people with the least societal privilege are aware of everyone else in front of them and aware of the differences in experiences.  I rarely, if ever, hear people who experience a high level of societal oppression talk about their experiences as if they are universal truths.  They can see clear as day that other people are living lives different than them due to racial privilege, economic privilege, educational privilege, etc….

For me the lesson in this is for all of us to take more time turning around and becoming aware of the people and experiences who aren’t directly visible to us.  Don’t make assumptions about other people’s experiences and instead take the time to learn about people, with an open mind.  And don’t assume you know what other people go through.  Assumptions don’t help us build relationships and connections.  They keep us divided and ignorant.


White entitlement to POC lived experiences

This week we celebrated the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a holiday I am excited to celebrate every year.  There are so many holidays that are difficult for me to be excited about, knowing the underlying celebration is not aligned with my beliefs or values.  But this past Monday, I celebrated and soaked in the legacy of MLK.

His words, reflections and critical questions are still so relevant today and I wanted to touch on a point he made in his lifetime, specifically in his Letters From a Birmingham Jail.

He writes 55 years ago, “I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

This passage makes me think about something friends of color often complain to me about with white people.  White people act as if they/we understand the experiences of people of color so much so, they/we argue with people of color to try and convince them they are being “too sensitive” or “too angry” or “taking things too personally” about experiences they are having.  This is so deep because as white people, we will NEVER know what it’s like to be a person of color. If we can’t ever understand this experience, how could we ever determine if someone is being “too” anything when it comes to dealing with the world and the racism, biases and microaggressions happening all the time?  We have never walked in the world in skin that is not our own and so the experiences we have in the world are of a person with white skin privilege, which has not dealt with racism on the receiving end.  We also don’t hold ancestral memory of racial oppression, attempted genocide and terror because of our skin color so it is impossible for us to really know the depth to how much a microaggression could impact a person of color.

Racism is traumatic and painful.  When a person is forced to deal with racially painful situations, and there is a lifetime and/or generations of trauma already there, the impact can be severe.  Nobody outside of that person, particularly someone who hasn’t felt that type of pain/ trauma, has the ability to know how that person feels.  AND, a white person telling a person of color that they are being too angry or too sensitive about situations in their life that are likely or definitely related to race is a microaggression.  If you don’t know what a microaggression is, I have added a definition and some examples below, courtesy of Derald Wing Sue from this article.

My next question that I ask is why do white people do this?  What is happening for us when a person of color is explaining their own experiences in life, particularly when it has to do with situations where race is involved, and we don’t believe them?  If we could admit that people of color understand their own personal experiences better than we understand them, would it somehow turn a finger on us to say that we are racist?  Are we so paranoid about being looked upon as racist that we subconsciously (or consciously) negate a person of color’s experience as a way to stay “emotionally safe”?  Or are we force fed the idea that this world is “our” world, that our voices, opinions and thoughts are validated in most situations in society so of course our experiences in life must be that of everyone else. So if our experiences are privileged above other’s, then when a person of color explains to us a scenario we don’t understand because we have never felt it before, we don’t believe them.  We think they are wrong.

A great way to hit this point home is the way people talk about police profiling and police brutality.  Most white people believe profiling and brutality by the police is either totally untrue, or is something that happens occasionally and by the few “bad apples” but not actually a common occurrence.  This is because we don’t witness it or experience it much, if at all.  For people of color, particularly the darker the skin and/or if the city and neighborhood they live in has a higher percentage of people of color, they see or experience or hear about profiling and brutality with such consistency that it is difficult to see it as random or occasional.  So, when a person of color explains how they have been taught to act when being pulled over and a white person says they are being paranoid or sensitive, this is a microaggression.  In the Black community, for instance, it is common place to have conversations with the children growing up (especially the boys) about how to act when approached by police officers.  They are taught very clear rules and regulations of how to behave in these situations, because it can be a matter of life or death.  Black people (and many Latino people or high melenated Asian and Pacific Islander people) know this intimately because of the history and current day world with police terror in communities of color. To a white person who has never experienced this or who doesn’t have many encounters with people of color to hear their experiences, they they don’t believe this reality exists.

Any my question to everyone who doesn’t believe in this reality, is WHY?  Why is it so hard to understand that someone else’s reality is not your reality?  If you/ I/ we don’t experience something that doesn’t mean it isn’t actually happening to people who live in a different experience because of something like skin color.

In order for us to do the real healing necessary, the real work necessary to make some significant changes and impact to our society, we MUST first listen to the ways racism has impacted people of color, with the FULL AWARENESS that it is really happening as they are sharing.  IT IS REALLY HAPPENING.  Once we can start learning these very important skills of listening without believing we know someone else’s experience better than they know their own experience, we can start having real dialogue about the impact and harm and move forward in how to heal and change.



Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

  • A White man or woman clutches their purse or checks their wallet as a Black or Latino man approaches or passes them. (Hidden message: You and your group are criminals.).
  • An Asian American, born and raised in the United States, is complimented for speaking “good English.” (Hidden message: You are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.)
  • A Black couple is seated at a table in the restaurant next to the kitchen despite there being other empty and more desirable tables located at the front. (Hidden message: You are a second-class citizen and undeserving of first-class treatment.)









Imagining Justice

I apologize for the super last minute notice about this, but if you are in the Oakland area tomorrow, December 20th, I will be speaking at Heart & Soul Center of Light.

Wednesday nights at Heart & Soul are entitled, Imagining Justice, and the month of December is themed,  Unleashing the Prophetic Voice of Creative Expression.  Each week highlights a different creative expression and I have been given the honor of bringing my Dissecting Whiteness work into the space.

If you are around, here is the information:

Heart & Soul Center of Light (, 1001 42nd St., 1st Floor, Oakland CA 94608

6:15-6:30 Meditation

6:30-8:00 Program

If you are able, come and be with me, be with us.


As always, I hope all is well in your world.